Europe, Opera Takes On Our Time

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lennygoran
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Europe, Opera Takes On Our Time

Post by lennygoran » Fri Jul 21, 2017 8:02 pm

Makes me glad I still have the Met away from Europe. Regards, Len :lol:


In Europe, Opera Takes On Our Time

By MICAELA BARANELLO JULY 21, 2017

Beneath the artifice, the virtuosic singing and the foreign languages, opera’s stories are deeply familiar: tales of love, loss and duty that anyone could identify with. But lately, there’s another way that opera has been recognizable to many in its audiences: its dissatisfaction with the state of the world.

During a recent operagoing trip to Europe, I was struck not by the extent to which productions were placed in the present — contemporary settings are routine there to an extent they are not in the United States — but by the degree to which they were critical of the universes they portrayed. They were, above all, savage and skeptical, and therefore felt very much of our moment.

The most straightforward of the bunch was Simon McBurney’s production of Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress,” at the Aix Festival in France. The sins of the young and rich — the protagonist, Tom Rakewell, enjoys a profligate life and enters into an ill-advised marriage — have not changed much since the 18th century, when the paintings and etchings on which the opera is based were created. Tom’s adviser, Nick Shadow, is the Devil himself, here a slick capitalist in a black suit who makes his pitch with a slide deck. Stravinsky’s angular, self-consciously antique score added pungent alienation to Mr. McBurney’s pointed references to smartphones, social media and reality television.

Satirizing the 1 percent might seem like a dicey proposition for the fancy world of European summer music festivals. This isn’t new: Gérard Mortier’s time at the Salzburg Festival in Austria in the 1990s involved many such bracing provocations. But Aix-en-Provence isn’t Salzburg. Its atmosphere is comparatively down-to-earth — there’s no red carpet at the opera house — but also, by design, the programming is more contemplative than star-struck.

In an interview at the start of the festival, Aix’s outgoing general director, Bernard Foccroulle, described his vision as one in which opera has “a vivid and creative relationship to the past, with a focus that is of our time.” The model should be one of “participation, not consumerism,” and he has sought to anchor the festival in larger artistic communities and to make connections with the broader Mediterranean world.

Mr. Foccroulle’s approach was evident in the other work I saw at Aix, Bizet’s “Carmen.” It’s opera’s ultimate golden oldie, but Dmitri Tcherniakov’s production, meticulously staged and performed with rare intensity, questions why we keep coming back to this story. The traditional Spanish setting has vanished, in favor of a complex framing narrative in which an alienated modern man in therapy is prescribed the enactment of Bizet’s deadly love story so he can reconnect with his emotions.

This is the production’s sense of our world: deadened masculinity. It essentially replaces Don José’s obsession with Carmen (the character) with an obsession with “Carmen” (the opera). Despite its intricacy and novelty, though, it still felt utterly true to the characters’ stories.


I can’t, however, make the same promise of accessibility when it comes to Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Franz Schreker’s 1918 rarity, “Die Gezeichneten,” which had its premiere at the Bavarian State Opera the previous week. While the libretto sets the work in the Italian Renaissance, this staging plays out, like “Rake,” among an immoral contemporary elite, a group of men in a corporate boardroom.

The plot concerns Alviano Salvago, a disfigured outcast who constructs an island paradise, the pleasures of which go awry when other aristocrats use it as a base for abducting and assaulting the maidens of Genoa. Schreker wrote a cautionary tale of moral decadence, but his effusive post-Romantic musical style makes sin sound really good.

This production was, above all, a showcase for the Bavarian State Opera’s outstanding, powerful orchestra, led here by Ingo Metzmacher. Singing with conviction and endurance, the cast included John Daszak as Alviano, and Catherine Naglestad as the painter Carlotta.


Mr. Warlikowski’s production is best when he pushes at the boundaries between art and life, pleasure and immorality. A self-reflexive thread made Alviano into a Schreker stand-in, with the loss of his island paradise standing in for this composer’s condemnation by the Nazis. Sometimes the allusions were too much. (I still can’t figure out what the references to a Kafka story about mice were up to.) But Mr. Warlikowski’s enigmatic, melancholy images of showgirls, boxing rings, silent movies and performance art can be entrancing in their ambiguity, like a puzzle from a strange mind. If you’re into David Lynch, Mr. Warlikowski is the director for you.

Perhaps the strongest argument for opera in Europe is the variety of approaches. In Zurich, a revival of Andreas Homoki’s production of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” offered a very different model of what opera can be. Set in a 19th-century Alpine village, it features characters who are pointedly closed off to a wider society. (This, in itself, may be a comment on that — on our — world.) The evening plays out in a plain wooden box, and the costumes of lederhosen and dirndls, while picturesque, are hardly the medieval dress of a conventional “Lohengrin.”

The production rejects otherworldly effects: The knight-savior Lohengrin appears in a nightshirt amid a crowd of chorus members and never seems to wield any magical powers. The cast, with Brandon Jovanovich and Rachel Willis-Sorensen in the leading roles, was heartfelt, but, perhaps intentionally, never transcended the production’s intimate scale. The opera became a simple, quietly compelling, all too reverberant tale of a community in crisis.

Mr. Homoki’s rejection of allegory is unusual for “Lohengrin,” an opera whose questions of faith, trust and social cohesion have often lent themselves to fanciful interpretations, like Hans Neuenfels’s mouse-themed production for the Bayreuth Festival in Germany. After the rich food for thought in Aix and Munich, I found Mr. Homoki’s approach rather plain, however luminous Fabio Luisi’s conducting was. But it is never boring, and its careful craft and expressivity have their own kind of honesty, particularly in the intimate space of Zurich’s opera house.

It’s also noteworthy that all these productions featured prominent, and excellent, performances by American singers: As well as Ms. Naglestad, Mr. Jovanovich and Ms. Willis-Sorensen, the list also included Michael Fabiano in “Carmen,” and Paul Appleby and Julia Bullock in “Rake’s Progress.” You hope they will bring something from these adventurous and intense operatic experiments back home.


https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/21/arts ... ction&_r=0

John F
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Re: Europe, Opera Takes On Our Time

Post by John F » Fri Jul 21, 2017 11:35 pm

Peter Sellars has been doing this for decades, using (abusing) old operas as vehicles for social criticism. By now you all know what I think of that. :evil:
John Francis

lennygoran
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Re: Europe, Opera Takes On Our Time

Post by lennygoran » Sat Jul 22, 2017 5:49 am

John F wrote:
Fri Jul 21, 2017 11:35 pm
Peter Sellars has been doing this for decades, using (abusing) old operas as vehicles for social criticism. By now you all know what I think of that. :evil:
I'm with you! Regards, Len :x

maestrob
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Re: Europe, Opera Takes On Our Time

Post by maestrob » Sat Jul 22, 2017 11:47 am

Yes, and so am I. :roll:

It's interesting that so many American singers are involved in these productions. Brandon Jovanovich in particular interests me, as he auditioned for me back in the 1990's, and my agent at the time referred him to Manhattan School, where he found an excellent teacher and within 6 months was starring in a school production of Rappacini's Daughter. He has a huge Wagnerian sound now, and I'm happy to see him appearing in Lohengrin: it's about time! He's a star, and I'm eagerly awaiting his Siegfried, which he will sing one day.

lennygoran
Posts: 12408
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
Location: new york city

Re: Europe, Opera Takes On Our Time

Post by lennygoran » Sat Jul 22, 2017 6:35 pm

maestrob wrote:
Sat Jul 22, 2017 11:47 am
Brandon Jovanovich in particular interests me,
Brian we saw him in the Met Rusalka--quite wonderful! Regards, Len

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